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Low pine cone production could up bear encounters

Sep 3, 2013 - From staff reports

CODY -- Annual whitebark pine surveys on established transects in northwest Wyoming indicate poor whitebark pine cone production during 2013, which could mean an increase in human-bear encounters this fall -- especially for hunters in grizzly bear habitat.

The seeds of whitebark pine are high in fat content, and are a sought-after food source as bears prepare for winter hibernation. In years of lower cone production, bears tend to range farther in search of alternative food sources.

"This does not mean bears are necessarily more aggressive, but during years of low cone production, bears are moving around more in search of food in the fall; which increases the likelihood of encounters with people," said Dan Thompson, large carnivore section supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Hunters should take note because they are a segment of the population likely to run into bears this fall.

"We want the people who live in and recreate in grizzly bear country to realize they may have a higher chance of encountering a bear this fall and they should maintain the 'bear awareness' that we stress throughout the year," Thompson said.

Thompson noted that although whitebark pine cones may not be readily available this fall, bears are well adapted to locate other food sources.

"Grizzly bears are amazingly adaptable. Lower pine cone production simply means bears will be on the move to find other food sources, and people recreating in northwest Wyoming should be aware of this natural phenomenon of grizzly bear biology," Thompson said. "It is important to note that despite annual fluctuations in food, grizzly bears are omnivores that can naturally adapt, and the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population continues to grow in size and distribution, regardless of the natural ebbs and flows in natural food production," Thompson said.

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